Thursday, July 19, 2007

Oh SHOVEL! Worthy of a better Fate

This will be my last post for a week or more: I am off with Booth junior to the Scilly Isles, for a swimming holiday.

The big early modern event in the Scilly Isles was a surprisingly fierce campaign by Parliamentary forces to dislodge the Royalist forces there, as detailed in Joseph Leveck’s A true accompt of the late reducement of the isles of Scilly published; in regard of the many false and scandalous reports, touching that service (1651).

More famous is the loss of the Association, and the death of Sir Cloudesley Shovell. I thought I knew something about this, having read Davina Sobel’s Latitude not so long ago. She repeats the story everyone knows, of the sailor having the temerity to approach his Admiral after a counsel of all the sailing masters had decided that they were in the latitude of Ushant, with his opinion that they were far to the west and heading for the Scilly Isles. For which insubordination, Sir Cloudesley had him hanged…

It isn’t true: there was a counsel on board the Association, in which one man, the sailing master of the Lennox, thought that the fleet was far to the west, but a majority view prevailed against him.

The best transcripts of contemporary documentary details of the disaster are on this website:

while on this site a partisan of the admiral is gathering information about the man and the traducing myth that got attached to him:

How and why Sir Cloudesley became the victim of this amazingly successful story would be hard to explain. It converted a well-regarded man (“No man understands the Affairs of the Navy better, or is beloved of the Sailors so well as he. He loves the Constitution of his Country and serves it without factious aim; he hath very good Natural Parts; familiar and plain in his Conversation; dresses without affectation; is a very large, fat, fair Man”) into a type of the inflexible and overbearing upper class military leader whose incompetence dooms his men. One might suppose that salient examples of that type have always been needed in England. Or it was black propaganda put out by Scillonians, heavily implicated in the robbery of Shovell’s corpse, even of his murder, craftily denigrating their victim?

To do him some further justice, I have transcribed the following elegy on his death (and his death alone). It isn’t one of the great maritime disaster poems, but it has its moments. The main interest in reading it is in watching how circumspect the anonymous author is about the potential embarrassments of writing a funeral elegy on a man called Shovel. The 17th century would have given in to the temptation, rejoiced in it, found no collocation of ‘shovel’ and ‘grave’ unsuitable. But, writing in an age of sentiment, the 1707 elegist manfully avoids all such frivolities:

A new elegy on the lamented death of Sir Cloudesly Shovel, rear admiral of Great Britain; and Admiral of the white squadron of Her Majesty's Royal-Navy; who was cast away on the rocks of Scilly, on Wednesday the 22nd of October, 1707. at 8 at night, as he was returning home from the streights, in Her Majesty's ship the Association

In Sable Weeds let widowed Albion mourn,

And dismal Pomp her shining Cliffs adorn;

Let want of Light on her once Glorious Shore,

In Mourning tell Great SHOVEL is no more:

While swoln Clouds their shaggy Fleeces dip,

And over Britain hang their Heads and Weep;

Oh SHOVEL! Worthy of a better Fate,

But Death’s blind stokes distinguish not the Great,

The Good or Brave when he Decrees it so,

Must with their load of Worldly Honour go;

But sure thy loss was not in Anger meant,

Heav’n is too just, and thou too Innocent.

As thro’ the Mourning Crowd I pass’d e’en now,

I mark’d a Gen’ral sadness on each Brow,

All mingle Tears, their Cries together flow

And from a hedious Harmony of Woe.

Great Neptunes Sons like lifeless Statues stand

Dropping their useless Swords from every Hand,

As if to say such Weapons useless are,

Farewell the Glory and the Hopes of War.

Oh Britain! Britain! If thou e’er dids’t Mourn,

Now thy Melancholly Weeds return:

Not Verse alone declares the heavy News,

The Winds conspire to assist my Muse:

The Tidings comes with each unwelcome blast,

For News so doleful always comes too fast,

Let the sad Sound be Born thro’ evry Sea,

And the Winds Groan while they the News convey:

Our Ships will need no other Cannon roar

Nor dreadfull sounds to terrifie the Shore.

What Grief shall not the British Sailors shew

For they have lost their joy, and Leader too:

Each do’s in Sighs his future Wishes send,

And to the Gods their SHOVEL recommend.

Say envious Stars did he deserve your Spight,

Or did the Day grudge him her Glorious Light:

T’avoid those Rocks, on which by error led,

He was by fatal Destiny Convey’d:

The bulging Ship upon the Shore struck fast

And scarce two Minutes but she struck her last:

Was quite o’re whelm’d with the next rolling Wave,

Aid and Endeavours were in vain to Save,

Whom Fate had destin’d to a Watry-Grave.

Each saw his unavoided Destiny,

Left the sad Wreek, and plung’d into the Sea:

There SHOVEL unamaz’d, by nature Brave,

Spreading his Arms Embrac’d a briny Wave,

And where he had reign’d with Honour, made his Grave

No Pomp, nor state, tho’ he deserv’d it all,

Attends on his untimely Funeral

As when the Summons of Commanding fate,

Sounds the last call at some proud Palace gate;

When both the Rich and Fair, the Great and High,

Fortunes most darling Favourites must dye;

Strait at th’Alarm the busie Heraulds wait,

To fill the Solemn Pomp, and Mourn in State:

Scutcheons, and sables then make up the show

Whilst on the Hearse the Mourning streamers flow

With all the rich Magnificence of Woe.

But SHOVEL, was deny’d those Honours due,

Or Neptune that so well his Actions knew:

Proud of that Honour, did all Pomp prevent,

And Tomb’d him in his Wat’ry Element

But Oh! I wander from the Task in Hand,

SHOVEL shou’d all my wand’ring thoughts command

Yet no Obscurity can blot his Name,

For round the World the thousand Mouths of Fame,

Shall spread his Praises and his Deeds Proclaim.

A Man, till now, that e’re was fortunate,

Precisely Good, and regularly Great:

His Soul with Native Honesty was Drest,

And a Good Conscience always fill’d his Breast:

His words were few, but of Important weight,

Mix’d with no stain of flattry or Deceit

The Bations Trust, and Sailors joy he prov’d

And still where ere he came he was belov’d:

None ever fought her Cause with more success,

None ere did more – or ever boasted less

His early Valour did Proclaim his Worth,

And help’d to set the growing Hero forth;

At Bautree, Beachy, and at Malaga,

The French too well his dauntless Conduct saw:

There you might see the Brittish Glory shine,

And SHOVEL break th’impenetrable Line.

From whom they steer’d, and wou’d be brought no more,

To tempt that fury they had felt before.

His Name was dreadful, as his Courage Great,

And Glory did on all his Actions wait.

On towring Wings, with SHOVEL in my view

How would my willing Muse the Theme pursue,

But Oh! no numbers ever can restore

The Good, the Valiant, SHOVEL is no more,

His Loss we Mourn, and if Grief e’er was just,

We ought to pay it to his Glorious Dust.

Statues are due but SHOVELS Fate alas,

Endures without those Monuments of Brass.

Nor can I in my Song forgetfull be,

T’express the Murm’rings of his Family,

His Consort unconsol’d Laments his Fate,

To which the manner adds a double weight;

Down’d near that fatal shore; she needs must Mourn,

On which she waited for his Wish’d Return

Weeping she sits, and all Chagrin appears,

To which her Children add their Dutious Tears.

The Servants in the Mournful Consort joyne

And at their Masters fatal loss repine.

His Royal Mrs. too Mourns o’re his Grave,

She knew him usefull, as she knew him Brave.

No Man his Country with more Honour Serv’d:

Or less for Interest, from his Duty Swerv’d:

Rest SHOVEL then, and let the Watry Grave,

That is intrusted with thy relicks have

This just Encomium that it holds the Dust,

Of one that was both Loyal, Brave and Just.


Ye sacred reliques buried in the Deep,

There undisturb’d by wars, in quiet Sleep:

Discharge the Trust which when it was below,

SHOVEL’s undaunted Soul did undergo,

Who was the Seas Palladium from the Foe,

Still watch thy Country’s Good, or if Above

Thou’rt Soard: regard us with thy wonted Love.

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